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Full text of "An Account of the Great Earthquakes,in the Western States,particularly on the Mississippi river"

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Iknoi Colleoe 




Preston paser 
Gollectton 

R ELATI N G TO Tl 

MISSISSIPPI 
RIVER 



1ft ACCOUNT 



OF THE 



&BEAT EA-RTHQJIAKE& 

IN THE 

WESTERN STATES s 

PARTICULARLY ON THE 

MISSISSIPPI HIVEE;- 

DECEMBER 16 — 23 3 181 1 . 



VOZLECTED FROM FACTS, 



NEWB&RVPORT: 

.PRINTED AND SOLD AT THE HERALD OFFICE) AND AT 
! THE BOOKSTORE OF TROMAS & WHIPPLE. 1312. 



MfndvtfcTO&Y. 



§E7* THE many and repeated shocks df Earthquake® ' 
Which have been felt in our southern and southwestern 
States, indicate that there has been some terrible, and per- 
haps destructive eruption of the Earth, somewhere to the 
south-west of us, perhaps Mexico, New-Spain, or Quito, of 
which we are hereafter to have tidings.— -As the great 
Earthquake which sunk a part of Lisbon, was felt in Scot- 
land, 1100 miles distant. Since the settlement of our coun- 
try, we have no record of such dreadful convulsions of the 
Earth as is recounted in the following pages. And as a me- 
morandum to assist the future historian, this pamphlet is pre- 
sented, believing it comes from well authenticated sources* 
Jfi-vburyfiort, Feb. 1812. 



To the Editor of the New-York Evening 
Post. 

BIG PRAIRIE, (ontheMissisippi,761 
miles from New-Orleans,) Dec, 25, 181 l f 

Dear Sib, 

Desirous of offering the most correct 
information to society at large, and of con- 
tributing in some degree to the speculations of 
the philosopher, I am induced to give pub- 
licity to a few remarks concerning a phenom- 
enon of the most alarming nature. Through 
you, therefore, I take the liberty of address- 
ing the world, and describing, as far as the 
adequacy of my means at present will per- 
mit, the most prominent and interesting fea- 
tures of the events, which have recently oc- 
curred upon this portion of our Western 
Waters. 

Proceeding on a tour from Pittsburg to 
New-Orleans, I entered the Missisippi where 
it receives the waters of the Ohio, on Friday 
the 13th day of this month, and on the 15th 
in the evening, landed on the left bank of 
this river, about 116 miles from the mouth 
of the Ohio. The night was extremely dark 
and cloudy ; not a star appeared in the hea- 
vens, and there was every indication of a se- 
vere rain. For the three last days, indeed, 
the sky had been continually overcast, and 
the weather unusually thick and hazy. 

It would not be improper to observe, that 



33943 



these waters are descended in a variety of 
$mall craft, but most generally in flat bot- 
tomed boats, built to serve a temporary pur- 
pose, and intended to float with the current, 
being supplied with oars, not so much to ac- 
celerate progress as to assist in navigating the 
boats, and avoiding the numerous bars, trees, 
and timber, which greatly impede the navi- 
gation of this river. In one of these boatjs 
I had embarked ; and the more effectually to 
guard against anticipated attacks from the 
Savage, who are said to be at present much 
exasperated against the whites, several boats 
had proceeded in company. 

Precisely at two o'clock on Monday morn- 
ing, the 16 inst. we were all alarmed by the 
violent and convulsive agitation of the boats 
accompanied by a noise similar to that which 
would have been produced by running over a 
sand bar. Every man was immediately rous- 
ed and rushed upon deck. We were first of 
opinion that the Indians, studious of some 
mischief, had loosed our cables, and thus sit- 
uated, we were foundering. Upon examina- 
tion, however, we discovered that we were 
yet safely and securely moored. The idea 
of an earthquake then suggested itself to my 
mind, and this idea was confirmed by a sec- 
ond shock, and two others in immediate suc- 
cession. These continued for the space of 
eight minutes. So complete and general had 
been the convulsion, that a tremulous motion 
was communicated to the very leaves on the 
surface of the earth. A few yards from the 
spot \vhere we lay, the body of a large oak 



was snapped in two, and the falling part pre- 
cipitated to the margin of the river ; the trees, 
of the forest shook like rushes : the alarm- 
ing clattering of their branches, may be com- 
pared to the effect which would be produced 
by a severe wind passing through a large 
cane brake. 

Exposed to a most unpleasant alternative, 
we were cqmpelled to remain where we were 
for the night, or subject ourselves to immi- 
nent hazard in navigating through the innu- 
merable obstructions in the river, consider- 
ing the danger of running two-fold, we con- 
cluded to remain. At the dawn of day I 
went on shore to examine the effects of the 
shocks ; the earth about 20 feet from the wa- 
ter's edge was deeply cracked, but no visi- 
ble injury of moment had been sustained ; 
fearing, however to remain longer where wc 
were, it was thought most adviseahle *o leave 
our landing as expeditiously as possible ; 
this was immediately done. At a few rods 
distance from the shore, we experienced a 
fifth shock, more severe than either of the 
preceding. I had expected this, from the 
lowering appearances of the weather ; it was 
indeed most providential that we had started, 
for such was the strength of this last shock, 
that the bank to which we Were (but a few 
moments since) attached, was rent and fell 
into the river, whilst the trees rushed from 
the forests, precipitating themselves into the 
water with force sufficient to have dashed 
us into a thousand atoms. 

It was now light, and we had an opportu- 



nity of beholding in full extent all the hor- 
rors of our situation. During the four first 
shocks, tremendous and uninterrupted explo- 
sions, resembling a discharge of artillery, 
were heard from the opposite shore. At that 
time I imputed them to the falling of the riv* 
er banks. This fifth shock explained the re- 
al cause. Wherever the veins of the earth- 
quake ran, there was a volcanic discharge of 
combustible matter to great heights, an in- 
eessant rumbling was heard below, and the 
bed of the river was excessively agitated, 
whilst the water assumed a turbid and boiling 
appearance, near our boat a spout of confin- 
ed air breaking its way- through the waters, 
burst forth, and with a loud report' dischar- 
ged mud, sticks, he. from the river's bed at 
least 30 feet above the surface. These spout- 
jngs were frequent, and in many places ap- 
peared to rise to the very heavens. Large 
frees which had lain for ages at the bottom 
of the river, were shot up in thousands of in- 
stances^ some with their roots uppermost and 
their tops planted ; others were hurled into 
%he air ; many again were only loosened* and 
Jfoated upon the surface. Never was a scene 
more replete with terrific threatenings of 
death. With the most lively sense of this 
awful crisis, we contemplated in mute aston- 
ishment a scene which completely beggars 
description, and of which the most glowing 
imagination is inadequate to form a picture. 
Here the earth, river, fkc. torn with furious 
convulsions, opened in huge trenches, whose 
deep jaws were instantaneously closed , there 



through a thousand vents sulphureous 
streams gushed from its very bowels leav« 
ing vast and almost unfathomable caverns* 
Every where Nature itself seemed tottering 
on the verge of dissolution. Encompassed 
with the most alarming dangers, the manly 
presence of mind and heroic fortitude of the 
men were all that saved them. It was a 
struggle for existence itself; and the meed to 
be purchased was our lives. 

During the day there was, with very little 
intermission, a continued series of shocks, 
attended with innumerable explosions like the 
rolling of thunder ; the bed of the river was 
incessantly disurbed, and the water boiled 
severely in every part. I consider ourselves 
as having been in the greatest danger from 
the numerous instances of boiling directly 
under our boat ; fortunately for us, however, 
they were not attended with eruptions. One 
of the spouts which we had seen rising un- 
der the boat would inevitably have sunk it, 
and probably have blown it into a thousand 
fragments ; our ears were constantly assailed 
with the crashing of timber, the banks were 
instantaneously crushed down, and fell with 
all their growth into the water. It was no 
less astonishing than alarming to behold the 
oldest trees of the forest, whose firm roots 
had withstood a thousand storms and weath- 
ered the sternest tempests, quivering and 
shaking with the violence of the shocks, 
whilst their heads were whipped together 
with a quick and rapid motion ; many were 
torn from their native soil, and hurled with 



tremendous force into the river ; one of these 
whose huge trunk, at least three feet in di- 
ameter, had been much shattered, was thrown 
better than a hundred yards from the bank, 
where it is planted in the bed of the river, 
there to stand a terror to future navigators. 

Several small islands have been already 
annihilated, and from appearances many oth- 
ers must suffer the same fate. To one of 
these I ventured in a skiff, but it was impos- 
sible to examine it, for the ground sunk 
from my tread, and the least force applied to 
any part of it seemed to shake the whole. 

Anxious to obtain landings arid dreading 
the high banks, we made for an island which 
evidenced sensible marks of the earthquake ; 
here we fastened to some willows, at the ex- 
tremity of a sunken piece of land, and con- 
tinued two days, hoping that this scene of 
horrors was now over ; still, however, the 
shocks continued, though not with the like 
frequency as before. 

On Wednesday in the afternoon I visited 
every part of the island where we lay, it was 
extensive and partially covered with willow. 
The Earthquake had rent the ground in large 
and numerous gaps ; vast quantities of burnt 
wood in every stage of alteration, from its 
primitive nature to stove coal had been 
spread over the ground to very considerable 
distances ; frightful and hideous caverns 
yawned on every side, and the earth's bow- 
els appeared to have felt the tremendous 
force of the shocks which had thus riven the 
surface. I was gratified with seeing several 



•> 



places where those spouts which had so 
much attracted our wonder and admiration 
had arisen, they were generally on the beach 
and have left large circular holes in the sand 
formed much like a funnel. For a great dis- 
tance round the orifice vast quantities of 
coal have been scattered, many pieces weigh- 
ing from fifteen to twenty pounds were dis- 
charged 160 measured paces. These holes 
were of various dimensions ; one of them, 
which I observed most particularly, was six- 
teen feet in perpendicular depth, and sixty- 
three feet in diameter at the mouth. 

On Thursday morning the 19th, we loos- 
ed our cables, with hearts filled with fervent 
gratitude to Providence, whose protection, 
had supported us through the perils to which 
We had been exposed. 

As we descended the river, every thing 
Was a scene of ruin and devastation, where a 
•short time since the Missisippi rolled its wa- 
ters in a calm and placid currents Now, sub- 
terranean forests have been ushered into ex- 
istence \ and raise their heads, hard and 
black as ebony, above the surface of the wa- 
ter, whose power has been so wonderfully in- 
creased, that strength and skill are equally 
baffled. Our boat was borne ddwn by an ir- 
resistible impulse, and fortunately escaped 
uninjured* We passed thousands of iacres 
of land which had been cleft from the main 
shore and tumbled into the Water, leaving 
their growth waving above the surface. In 
many places single trees and whole brakes 
of cane had slipped into the river. A singular 

9 



10 

instance of this kind peculiarly attracted mf 
observation :— a large sycamore had slipped 
from its station on the bank and had so admi- 
rably preserved its equilibrmni, that it has 
been left standing erect in the water immers- 
ed about ten feet, and has every appearance 
of having originally grown there. 

The shocks I conceive were most sensibly 
experienced upon the islands, and frumbers 
of them have been much shattered, for I ob- 
served where the strata of earth was fairest, 
it did not crack, but undulated excessively : 
At Fort Pickering on the extremity of the 
Fourth Chickasaw Bluff, and 242 miles from 
the mouth of the Ohio, the land is strong and 
high. Here, however, the earth was extreme- 
ly agitated, and the block house which is al- 
most a solid mass of hewn timber, trembled 
like the aspin leaf. 

The^obstructions in this river, which have al- 
ways been quite numerous, are now fo considera- 
bly increafed as to demand the utmost prudence 
and caution from fubfequent navigators, ; indeed, 
I am very apprehenfive that it will be almoft im- 
paflible in flood water ; for until fuch time it will 
be impoflible to fay where the currents will here- 
after run, what portion (if any) of the prefent 
embarraffments will be deftroyed, and what new 
fandbars, &c may yet be caufed by this porten- 
tous phenomenon. MANY POOR FELLOWS 
ARE UNDOUBTEDLY WRECKED, OR 
BURIED UNDER THE RUIN OF THE 
BANKS. OF THE LOSS OF FOUR BOATS 
1 AM CERTAIN. 

It is almost impoflible to trace at prefent the 
exa*£t courfe of this Earthquake, or where tne' 
greatelt injuries have happened j from numerous 



11 

inquiries, however, which I have made of perfons 
above and below us at the time of the firft fhock, 
I am induced to believe that we were very nearly 
in the height of it ; the ruin immediately in the 
vicinity of the river, is raoft extensive on the right 
fide in defcending. For the firft two days, the 
veins appeared to run a due courfe from W. to E; 
afterwards they became more variable, and gen- 
erally took a N. W. direction. 

At New-Madrid, 70 miles from the confluence 
of the Ohio, and on the right hand, the utmoft 
con fter nation prevailed amongft the inhabitants ; 
confufion, terror and uproar prefided ; thofe in 
the town were feen running for refuge to the 
country, whilst thofe in the country fled with 
like purpofe towards the town. I am happy, how- 
ever, to obferve, that no material injury has been 
fuftained. 

At the little Prairie, 103 miles from the same point, the 
shocks appear to have been more violent, and were attended 
with severe apprehensions ; the towns were deserted by their 
inhabitants, and not a single person was left but an old negro 
man, probably too infirm to fly. Every one appeared to 
consider the woods and hills most safe, and in these confi- 
dence was reposed. Distressing, however, as are the outlines 
of such a picture, the latest accounts are not calculated to 
increase apprehensions. Several chimneys were destroyed., 
and much land sunk. No lives, however, have been lost. 

A little below Bayou river, 130 miles from the same point, 
and 13 miles from the spot where we lay, the ruin begins 
extensive and general. 

At Long Reach, 146 miles? there is one continued forest 
of roots and trees which have been ejected from the bed of 
the river. 

At and near Flour Island, 174 miles, the destruction has 
been very great, and the impediments in the river much in- 
creased. 

At the Devil's Race Ground, 193 miles, an immense num- 
ber of very large trees have been thrown up, and the river is 
nearly impassable. The Devil's Elbow, 2 : 14 miles, is in the 
same predicament. Below this, the ruin is much less, and 
indeed no material traces of the earthquake are discoverable. 

The western country must suffer much from this dreadful 
scourge ; its effects will I fear be more lasting than the fond 
hopes of the inhabitants in this section of the Union may at 



12 

present conceive. What have already been the interior inju- 
ries I cannot say. My opinion is, that they are inferior in 
extent and effect. 

The continuance of this earthquake must render it con- 
spicuous in the pages of the Historian, as one of the longest 
that has ever occurred. From the time that the first shock 
was felt at 2 o'clock in the morning of the 1 6th, until the last 
shock at the same time in the morning of the 23d, was 16$ 
hours. Nothing could have exceeded the alarm of the a- 
quatic fowls ; they were extremely noisy and confused, flying 
in every direction, without pursuing any determinate course. 
The few Indians who were on the banks of the river have 
keen excessively alarmed and terrified. All nature indeed 
seemed to sympathize in the commotion which agitated the 
earth. The sun rarely shot a ray through the heayens, the 
sky was clouded, and* a dreary darkness brooded over the 
whole face of creation ; the stars were encircled with a pale 
light, and the comet appeared hazy and dim ; the weather 
was incessantly varying from oppressive heat to severe cold, 
and during many of the shocks some rain fell. 

I subjoin the ensuing table of the stocks, with the exact; 
order of time in which they occurred, as extracted from m j 
minutes. 

16th December — the first shock followed by three others, at two 
o'clock in the morning-. 7 A. M. happened a very severe, shock— 8, 
9 shocks in quick succession — 9, 3 more shocks — 10 minutes after 
11, one shock — 25 after 11, another — 5 after 12, a violent shock — 25, 
after 1 P M. another — 31 after 1, a long and violent shock— 42 after 

I, a shock — 10 after 5, very severe shock — 42 after 5, a shock — 10 be- 
fore 6 do— 15 of 7 do-35 af. 7 do— 10 of 8 do— 5 af. 8 do— 5 of 9 do 
—25 af 9 do.— 20 of 10 do.— 15 of 10 do— 10 of 10 do— 15 to 20 of 

II, three do--12 of 11 great shock— 28 after 11, severe shock--17th 
December, 3P minutes past 5 a shock— 5 in the morning a great and 
awful shock followed, with three others— 5 after 12 meridian, a long 
and dreadful shock, apppearanees extremely threatening—IB after 
11 P. M. 2 severe shocks— 24 after 11 a shock— 26 after 11 do—35 
after 11 do— 48 after U do- 18th December, 17 minutes of 3, A. M. 
a shock-~17 after 3 do— 30 after 3 do— 5 of 4 do— 10 after 4 do—10 
after 5 do—35 after 5 do. very severe— 5 after 6 do- 45 after 6 do— 
7 of 8 do— 20 after 12 meridian— 10 after 1 P. M. do— 25 after 2 do 
severe— 30 after 2, five shocks in succession — 3 o'clock a shock— 15 
minutes after 3 do. severe— 43 after 4 do— 8 after 10 do—10 after 11 
do. very severe— 19th December, 30 minutes after 5 A. M. 4 shocks 
in succession— 17 of 9 severe shock- -30 after 1 P. M a shock— 17 of 
2 do— 30 after $ do— 30 after 9 do— 30 after 11 do— 20th December, 
30 minutes after 9 A. M. a shock— 10 after 11 a long and tremen- 
dous shock— 21st December, several reports of shocks or distant 
thunder was heard— 22d December. 31 o'clock A. M. a slight shock 
—23d December, at 2 in the morning a very severe shock. 

Thus we observe that there were in the space of time men° 
tioned before, eighty-nine shocks. It is hardly possible to 
conceive the convulsion which they created, and I assure yet* 



13 

J Relieve that there were many of these shocks, which, ha^ 
{hey followed in quick succession, were sufficient to shake 
into atoms the firmest edifices which art ever devised. 

I landed often, and on the main shore, as well as on sever- 
al islands, found evident traces of prior eruptions, all which 
seem corroborative of an opinion, that the river was formed 
by some great earthquake. To me, indeed, the bed appears 
to possess tvery necessary ingredient ; nor haye I a doubt 
but that there are at the bottom of the river, strata upon stra- 
ta o>f volcanic matter. The great quantities of combustible 
materials, which are undoubtedly there deposited, tend to ren- 
der a convulsion of this kind extremely alarming ; at least, 
howeyc-r, the beds of timber and trees interwoven and firmly 
matted together at the bottom of the Missisippi, are tolerabtc 
correct data from, which may be presumed the prior nature, 
£cc. of the land, The trees are similar to those which 
grow upon the banks, and why may not an inference be 
drawn that some tremendous agitation of nature, has rent this 
once a continued forest, and given birth to a great and noble 
stream. There are many direct and collateral facts which 
may be adduced to establish the point, and which require 
$ime and investigation to collect and apply. 

Thus, my dear Sir, I have given a superficial view of this 
awful pnenomenon ; not so much to comey instruction upon 
a very interesting subject, as to gratify the curiosity of the 
public relative to so remarkable an event. 

Should other interesting circumstances occur, relative to* 
this Phenomenon, I will do myself the pleasure of makinir 
you another communication. 

With much respect, I am, Sir, vour obedient servant, 
WILLIAM LEIGH PIERCE. 



New-Orleans, Jan. 10, 1812. 

Dear Sir,— Agreeable \o my promise in the last com^ 
munication which I had the pleasure of making you, I 
present a further detail of the late Earthquake. 

Its range appears to have been by no means confined ta 
the Missisppi. It was felt in some degree throughout the 
Indiana Territory and the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Ten* 
nessee. I have conversed with gentlemen from Louisville 
and Lexington, (in Kentucky) who state it was severe in both 
of those places. At the latter indeed it continued for twelve 
days, and did some injury to several dwellings. From thence* 
it ranged the Ohio River, encreasing in force until it entered 
the Missisippi, and extending down that river to Natchez, S; 
probably a little lower. Beyond that it was not perceived. 

It is reported, through the medium of some Indians, from 
the country adjacent to the Washita, who arrived a few days 
since at the Walnut-Hills, some distance above Natchez., 



14 

that the Burning Mountain, up the Washita River, had ben^ 
rent to its base. This information I received from a Settler 
at the Hills, and his appearance was such as to attach credit 
to his information. Yours, &c. 

WM. L.PIERCE. 



Earthquake in North-Carolina. 

To the Editors of the Raleigh Star. 

Gentlemen— I take the liberty to transmit the following ac- 
count c»f an earthquake which happened on the night be- 
tween the '(5th and 16th inst. 

On Monday morning about one o'clock, the inhabitants of 
this place were roused from their peaceful slumbers by a 
dreadful sound. Some waggoners, who were up at the time 
it began, said it resembled, but was louder, than if 100 wag- 
gons were driven at full speed down the mountain. This 
gave us considerable ajarm. The timkl took to prayer, ex- 
pecting every moment, as they say, to hear the sound of the 
last trumpet. The more courageous ventured to open their 
doors, to discover what occasioned the noise — a sudden trem- 
bling of the earth caused fresh terror and alarm, from which 
we had not time to recover, when we felt a violent shock 
which lasted about three minutes, and was attended with a 
hollow rumbling noise, and ended with a dreadful crash, lea\v- 
Ing behind a strong sulphureous stench. 

For the remainder of the night, all was still and calm, but 
was spent by us in trembling anxiety. When the wished-for 
morning came, we were happy to find no lives were lost ; 
i — bu while some of us were in the street congratulating each 
other on our happy escape, we were again alarmed by a m\Lc.h 
lou !er noise than any we had heard before. It was quickly 
ioi lowed by a more violent shock, which gave the earth an 
undulating motion, resembling the waves of the sea. Two 
of those who were standing with me were thrown off their 
feet ; the rest of us with difficulty kept from falling, while 
two or three Cows that were near us were unable to stand, 
and testified rheir fear by their loud bellowing, which with 
the cries of the women and children, and the terror that was 
depicted in the countenance of the men, presented a scene 
of horror I am unable to describe. 

It is somewhat strange that its effects were more violent 
in the valleys than on the mountains j A tan yard, in, a, valley 
near this place, had several vats displaced, and the edges of 
some were raised three feet above their former level. It 
would far exceed the bounds of this letter to describe all the 



IS 

phenomena produced by this awful convulsion of nature 3 
rocks moved, hills shook, houses shattered, &c. 

A wonderful change has taken place in the manners of 
the people. I believe so many fervent prayers never were 
put up in this place as were on that fearful night and morn- 
ing. I hope what has been done may produce a revival hi 
religion. 

I have just seen a gentleman from Knoxville, who passed 
Sunday night with Mr. Nelson at the warm springs ; from 
his account his situation was more terrifying than ours. For 
several hours previous to the shock the most tremendous 
noise was heard in the neighboring mountains. At inter- 
vals it was quiet ; but would begin with so much violence 
that each repetition was believed to be the last groan of ex- 
piring nature. The shock at that place did but little damage 
except to a few huts that were built near the springs for the 
accommodation of invalids The fulminating of the moun- 
tains was accompanied with flashes of lire, seen issuing from 
their sides — each flash ended with a snap, or crack, like that 
which is heard on discharging an electrick battery, but infi- 
nitely louder. This induced him to believe the Earthquake 
was caused by the electric fluid. 

In the morning It was observed that a large stream of wa- 
ter, warm (temperature by Fan. 142 de^.) issued from a fis- 
sure in a rock on the side of the mountain, which had been 
opened the preceding night. While they were examining 
it, another shock was felt which lasted two minutes. 

Several masses of stone were loosed from their ancient 
beds and precipiitated from the summits and sides of the 
mountains. One in particular, well known to western trav- 
ellers by the name of the painted rock, was rolled into the 
road, so as to entirely obstruct the passage of waggons, which 
cannot pass again till a new road is cut. 

JOHN C. EDWARDS. 
dshville, (JV. C.J Dec. 19, 1811. 



Earthquake in Tennessee. 

A letter from a gentleman of the first respectability in- 
Tennessee, received in this city, states, that the Earthquake 
so generally felt on the 16th Dec. was so violent in the vicin- 



16 

# 

hy of his residence, thai several chimnies were thrown down* 
and that 18 or 20 acres of land on Piney river, had suddenly 
sunk so low that the tops of the trees were on a level with 
the surrounding earth..* Four other shocks were experien- 
ced on the 17th, and one or more continued to occur every 
day to the 30th ult the day of the letter. 
Raleigh (JV. CJ Jan. 24, 1812. 



Note.— -Besides the foregoing, there sire accounts of the 
Earthquake on the I6th Dec. in Connecticut, Maryland* 
Pennsylvania, Virginia, South-Carolina and Georgia ; the 
effects of which, however, do not appear to have been so se* 
vere as above related* 



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